2007 in tech, and the world
In the coming year we'll see faster change, more of you, a turn toward us, worsening security problems, impact from Microsoft, and more.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- What is likely to happen in 2007, when it comes to tech? Change is now happening so quickly, and technology change is so greatly inducing societal change, that change itself is just about the only constant.
I used to fill my annual prediction column with references to companies, but that seems increasingly less relevant.
The Internet has been taken over by the people. We have entered a new era of applications and content, from the Huffington Post, a new form of daily newspaper that is cobbled together online from its readers, miscellaneous bloggers and content from other media, to the virtual world of Second Life. Of course YouTube, MySpace and Facebook are the flagbearers of the trend. All will continue to thrive in 2007. Time got it right in naming You the person of the year.
I used to bemoan the fact that there was no national progressive newspaper. Now such carping makes no sense. There is the equivalent of a newspaper for every outlook - just adjust your RSS feeds accordingly.
Some would argue that this will create a solipsistic media - one where people only listen to those they agree with - and that will make our fragmented society only more so. There is some truth to that, but I see a bigger macro trend in which I take comfort.
We may be individuating our news, but we are aggregating our awareness. More and more of us are sensing - through the transparency made possible by technology and the Internet - the larger planet of which we are a part. The astonishingly rapid growth of concern about global warming is one evidence point.
The suffering of the world's poor, so long endured in silence, is beginning to be heard elsewhere in the world. I see evidence of this in a number of places: in the global health work of the Gates Foundation; in the Red marketing campaign initiated by Bono for African victims of AIDS, now joined by Motorola (Charts), American Express (Charts), Gap (Charts), Armani, Converse and Apple; in the increasing efforts of many tech companies to position themselves with efforts to improve the lot of the world's poor (see my recent column: Tech Targets the Third World) even in the new book "What is the What" by bestselling author Dave Eggers, recounting the more-or-less true tale of a Sudanese refugee.
The next big trend for companies of all types - much as today they're all rah-rah about being green - will be to show concern for the world's poor. I won't claim it's a purely 2007 trend, but it's one we'll see more evidence of in the year ahead.
Second Life more and more
One of the many reasons I remain excited by Second Life, the online virtual world, is that it is populated by people from everywhere. Standing in a group talking with people who are simultaneously - right now - in Buenos Aires, London and Japan gives me new awareness of how the Internet is shrinking our world. Expect, by the way, for the hullabaloo about Second Life only to grow in 2007.
But watch your digital back
Meanwhile, the counter-trends are also much in evidence. One reason security problems are likely to be more serious in 2007 is that malefactors from obscure places, mostly developing countries, now have access to the Internet. They are attacking us with viruses, increasingly aimed at profit, and with spam - obviously aimed at profit.
The spam problem doesn't emanate only from the poorer parts of the world, but it just gets worse and worse. I'm seeing people dumping their longtime e-mail addresses in hope of reducing the outrageous burden of daily spam overload. Expect this and related security problems to occupy more and more of our attention both as individuals and as an industry in 2007.
Microsoft still matters
While the Internet has taken away much of the centrality of the PC operating system, I retain a healthy respect for the impact of a fundamentally new OS from Microsoft (Charts), which we have this year in Vista.
I grudgingly took on the role of tech writer back in early 1991 when nobody else at Fortune wanted to do it. Tech seemed soporific. While Windows 3.0 - the version that finally worked right - had been released the previous summer, it hadn't yet caught on. But by mid-1991 it was changing everything, and before long the World Wide Web itself came along in Windows' wake.
Something like that could start to happen in 2007. Vista is so much better than its predecessor operating systems that I think it will give the entire computer industry a pleasant kick forward. Expect everybody from Dell and HP to miscellaneous graphics card, peripheral and memory makers to benefit. And who knows what new applications will follow in Vista's wake?
And more trends...
Open source will continue to shake up the industry (and get high-powered software into poor places in the world). Apple will release an iPhone, but it may fall flat unless Apple finds a way around the Neanderthal telecom industry. Google will continue to dominate search and grow into an even more powerful media company. And I predict that this will be the year that worries about data overload, and the sheer speediness of our technology-mediated lives, become greater subjects of concern worldwide.
But I'll end by quoting the final words from my year-end column back in December 2004, because the same issues still prevail, only more so: "The more I think about tech's potential to improve our lives, the more optimistic I become. So let's all think about it a lot. And also, let's pray for peace."